CAN’T SEE THE SUN Geanies (Mule Kick Records) *****+
It’s the debt E.P. from this blues influenced alt rock band. Not sure if it’s the harmonics or the playing itself, even the voice of singer/ guitarist Sean Michael Howe, but from the opening notes of the first track Can’t See The Sun had me thinking ‘Nirvana’. Geanies’ brand of alt rock barroom swagger is a thing of ragged, rugged beauty.
Rock & roll sure as hell ain’t dead- not in Venice California, where Geanie is from. The band is 19 year old singer/ guitarist/composer Sean Michael Howe, Eliot Lorango on bass and Ethan Maxwell on drums. It sounds like Sean and his band mates have been listening to their dads’ classic rock record collections in creating their complex yet emphatic simplicity. The vibe has a certain ‘Seattle-ness’ to it as you can hear and feel traces of Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam in the songs. To be as accomplished as he is at 19 Howe had to start early. He found music at the age of 7 while listening to a band in an after-school program, started noodling around with his father’s guitars and quickly mastered the basics. Dad schooled him in guitar tone while his mom shared her love for chordal harmonies, setting him on a seemingly pre-determined path into the rock & roll life; he started forming bands a s a pre-teen and love being on stage. “I love being a part of a massive sound that connects you and everyone around who may be listening” Sean declares. “There is no better feeling when everyone is with you and into to it.”
Can’t See The Sun was produced by KP Hawthorn of Mule Kick Records and Steve Berns at Berns’ Fitting Room Studio in LA, and it oozes renegade rock spirit, the sound clear but not fussy with plenty of punch. The tunes reflect the angst you’d expect from a 19 year old songwriter; Bury Me examines the uncertainty of the world around him, the grungy Here She Comes is the number most directly influenced by Nirvana, and Nowadays takes a look at coming into adulthood as the young man who wrote it looks back at his life decisions thus far.
Can’t See The Sun is seriously excellent. My only complaint is that, as an EP, there are only 5 songs… I want more.
HOT TRACKS: Bury Me, Here She Comes
70TH ANNIVERSARY BLUES ANTHOLOGY Various Artists (Delmark Records) *****+
Delmark Records is the longest running independent blues and jazz label in the world. They celebrate their 70th anniversary this month with 10 of the finest blues numbers from their vaults; a ‘must-have’ collection for aficionados wanting to steep themselves in the rich tradition of this music, a history lesson to devour and savor repeatedly.
The late Bob Koester founded Delmar, later Delmark Records, while a college student in St. Louis. When he released his first record in 1953did he even dare dream that the label would still be going and growing in the new millennium? Many now iconic figures in jazz and blues have made records for the label, and 70th Anniversary is just a drop in the bucket from the over 12,000 recordings this label has made. Although Koester retired in 2018, under the leadership of president/ CEO Julia A. Miller and artistic director Elbio Barilari Delmark has released over 30 records in the last 5 years as it continues its mission of seeking out and documenting new talent.
Perhaps in the not-so-distant future the label might consider a more comprehensive survey of their history to show their journey… in the meantime this 70th Anniversary Blues Anthology takes us back to the early days with 10 tracks from artists that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the blues will recognize. Get ready to drool as you check out this guest list that reads like a history of the genre; Junior Wells with Buddy Guy/ Magic Sam/ Otis Rush/ Jimmy Dawkins/ Dinah Washington/ T-Bone Walker/ Big Time Sarah/ Little Walter with Muddy Waters/ Memphis Slim with Matt “Guitar” Murphy, and Jimmy Johnson.
70th Anniversary Blues Anthology celebrates the label’s beginnings and is a delicious time travel experience. The blues, perhaps more than any other genre, has a keen awareness of its own history and Delmark has been an important player for 7 decades, thanks to artists like those featured here. This is like opening up a crate of fine wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion, so pop that cork and have a sip… this is the really, really good stuff.
HOT TRACKS: All Of Your Love (Magic Sam), Blues For A Day (Dinah Washington), Ashes In My Ashtray (Jimmy Johnson)
STEEL BARS- A ROCK TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL BOLTON Various Artists (Frontiers)
I get it; there are many who wouldn’t touch this thing with steel barbeque tongs while wearing welding gloves but when I saw the title and subject of this disc, like driving by a horrible road accident I had to slow down and take a look. Steel Bars- A Rock Tribute To Michael Bolton, as it turns out, ain’t half bad. It concentrates on Bolton’s earlier career as a rock singer, before he became the latest Barry Manilow. This is a mix of newer vocalists and established singers on the Frontiers label taking on Michael’s pre-90’s stuff. The cheese is strong but it’s enjoyable too.
Prior to his career as an MOR crooner, Michael Bolton (Bolotin is his real last name) was in the rock band Black Jack with future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. There’s even a rumor that, when Black Sabbath were looking for yet another singer in the 80’s, Michael tried out. The idea for Steel Bars came about when label president Serafino Perugino, a fan of the rock period of Bolton’s career, had the idea to bring in an array of singers to sing his tunes. Some of the names I recognize- Ronnie Romero (Rainbow), Girish Pradhan (Girish & The Chronicles)- but most of them I don’t. That having been said, this is a pretty talented lot. The band laying down the bed tracks includes Andrea Seveso on guitars, Saal Richmond on keys, Mitia Maccaferri on bass, Nicholas Papapicco on drums, and producer Alessandro Del Vecchio on backing vocals.
While Steel Bars is a tribute to Bolton’s pre-90’s career, I am unfamiliar with that and so can’t compare what’s been done here with the originals. As a radio deejay I AM familiar with Michael’s golden years, when it seemed to you couldn’t go 20 minutes without hearing one of his songs on the air. Having said that, what I’m hearing on this disc dovetails quite well with those hits ‘n’ ballads of the 90’s that we’re so ashamed to admit we secretly like.
Production here is decidedly keyboard heavy, a 90’s signature sound and feature of many Frontiers releases. It’s the singers chosen to deliver these tracks that make the difference between some measure of success and delete bin obscurity- ask your dad, he’ll know what that means. Talented musicians and singers plus okay material equals a record you won’t be busting out every weekend but when you DO put it on you’ll enjoy it, and hate yourself for doing so.
HOT TRACKS: Everybody’s Crazy (with Girish Pardhan), Don’t Tell Me It’s Over (with Ronnie Romero), How Can We Be Lovers (with Dave Mikulskis)
SMOKE BURST Mario Rossi Band (independent) *****
Some sweet, hard rockin’ blues here from Brazilian singer/ guitarist Mario Rossi on his 3rd album. Smoke Burst is bound to give lovers of guitar driven blues raging boners as Rossi mesmerizes with his muscular playing style. Smoke Burst is the right title for this bad boy.
Mario Rossi was born with the blues coursing through his veins. In 2013 and 2015, he joined the band that accompanied American bluesman John Primer on a tour through the Brazilian south and hasn’t looked back. What makes Smoke Burst so enjoyable is how Mario combines the vintage tones and stylistic traditions of classic blues with the rock-edged sounds of his youth. It’s a powerful, irresistible mix, a magic sweet spot between two passionate styles that is getting him attention from both the blues and metal scenes. As Howard King of At The Barrier notes, “He does lean on the rockier side of the blues genre but such expertise only comes from paying dutiful respect to his masters.” As you give this a listen you’ll realize Howard is right.
Smoke Burst was recorded in Sao Paulo, produced by Rossi with Othon Ribeiro, who also engineered and mixed the album. It’s a good, meaty sound as The Mario Rossi Band punches their way through 8 cuts. Mario’s guitar playing is rough edged yet fluid, and he proves himself to be a strong blues singer too, though he does step back from the mic on It Means Blues for Lu Vitti and makes room for Steve Bell to step up for There’s No Hope For Willie Brown, a possible reference to the movie Crossroads and Joe Seneca’s character in particular. If you’re jonesing for a real six string fix, Jammin’ For Jimi does not disappoint.
When it comes to rockin’ guitar-driven blues, it just doesn’t get much better than Smoke Burst. The Mario Rossi Band has captured lightning in a bottle on their 3rd record and I can easily see this making many ‘best of the year’ lists come December, including mine. Wicked stuff.
HOT TRACKS: It Means Blues, Smoke Burst, Cold Lonely Nights
MORGOTH TALES Voivod (Century Media) ***
2023 marks 40 years of existence for Canadian sci-fi metal maniacs Voivod. Morgoth Tales is fresh re-recordings by the band’s current lineup of tracks from their back catalog circa 1984-2003, plus a new song in the title cut. Safe to say it’s time to set your stereo to ‘stun’.
Drummer Michel Langevin notes that Morgoth Tales “covers 40 years of space exploration. It was really exciting for us to visit a more obscure part of the Voivod catalog, from thrash-punk to prog metal.” Fans already know that this is the band former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted (Jasonic) was involved with for a time. Recorded and mixed by Francis Perron, mastered by Maor Appelbaum and produced by the band, MT gives the current line up- Dominic Laroche, bass… Michel Langevin, drums… Denis Belanger, vocals… Daniel Mongrain, guitar- a chance to dig into some cool stuff from the past. ‘Progressive’ is probably the best description of these 10 songs, so we might as well call it heavy metal jazz. In many ways the music is straightforward but there’s a sonic dissonance on songs like Pre-Ignition that give it a distinct jazz thang. Or maybe that’s just me.
If you’re curious about the prog metal scene in general and Voivod in particular, then Morgoth Tales is a good place to start. It gives you a taste of where the band is going and where they’re coming from at the same time, with sonic improvements on older material to make it more competitive on today’s metal scene. There seems to be a bit of a Pink Floyd flavor at work in the shadows too, a willingness to color outside the lines that can either intrigue a listener or turn them off. To be honest when it comes to that I’m kind of on the fence. A straightforward rocker like Fix My Heart is definitely more to my taste.
Morgoth Tales likely won’t convert any new fans, but then again it might. This does what it should do; remind fans why they love Voivod and reward them with a new track. I don’t love it but I don’t hate it either… enter at your own risk.
HOT TRACKS: Fix My Heart, Condemned To The Gallows, Morgoth
ENCHANTMENT Until The Sun (independent) *****
The Arizona desert isn’t the first place we look for great blues-based music but thanks to Until The Sun maybe we should start. Enchantment is just out this summer and it’s a beautiful thing. Atmospheric at times and blistering at others, this is an irresistible fusion of blues, alt-rock, psychedelia and jazz that takes you down the rabbit hole. You might not want to come back.
UTS are Brandon Teskey on guitars, Alyssa Swartz on vocals, David Raymer on bass, Michael Young on keys, and Chris Tex on drums. The band formed in 2017 but they play like they’ve been together much longer. Enchantment is the right title for this disc as that’s pretty much the effect it has on anyone willing to step up and give ‘er a spin; that’s certainly the effect it had on me. Teskey’s guitar playing is masterful and Alyssa Swartz’s voice is as mesmerizing as it is passionate. Whether considering all of the musicians individually or collectively one thing’s for sure, nobody’s just ‘phoning it in’; they leaning into it and they’re leaning hard.
Enchantment was recorded this past Spring at Minds Eye Recording, produced by the group and Larry Elyea, mastered by David Collins. That’s worth mentioning because this is one the best sounding albums, blues or otherwise, that I’ve heard in quite some time- no doubt they could have a lucrative side gig producing for other acts too. Calling this a ‘blues record’ is too limiting… although the blues are heard and felt the psychedelic feel of a track like Ghost In A Prayer opens up another dimension, pun partially intended. If The Doors were around today I can imagine them doing stuff like this.
Like it says on the band website, “Enchantment is a psychedelic blues-rock album that endeavors to capture the sound and spirit of blues rock music in the mid to late 60’s”, something it does exceedingly well. That’s the kind of thing I cut my teeth on as a kid; perhaps that’s why I respond to it so strongly. Enchantment leaves a lasting impression.
HOT TRACKS: Dragon Below, Ghost In The Prayer, All Over Again